Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Battersea was the core of it all. That much was clear, now. The problem with launching any kind of offensive against that great fortress of electrical power was persuading the men of U.N.I.T. that there was a target at all.

“It’ll take all day to convert every single one of their ear pieces,” The Doctor complained. He had already done it for all the officers in the command post, who now knew that there was more than just a wasteland across the river. But there had to be at least a hundred men who were still bewildered by their new mission.

“Well, we can’t wait,” The Brigadier snapped shortly. “This has to be stopped. A chip shop fire is not the worst thing that could happen. What if Buckingham Palace went up in flames? What if this is some alien plot to take over the country while the government is MISSING?”

“I hardly think that’s likely, Brigadier,” The Doctor answered. “An alien force wouldn’t need to empty Westminster in order to take over Britain. Any force capable of interstellar travel would have far superior armaments to anything you have and could complete the take-over in an afternoon. This has happened for a relatively short time - five days in a row - without anything other than accidental harm such as the overheating chip fryers. Everybody has been returned, unharmed, to where they were, and with no more than an inconvenience to their schedules.”

“Then why is it happening at all?” Zoë asked. “Is it possible this is an accidental side effect of something?”

“It seems too concerted for that,” The Brigadier considered.

“Maybe they’re LOOKING for something,” Lieutenant Benton suggested. Everybody looked at him for a long, silent moment, then The Brigadier dismissed the notion. Benton looked as he always looked when his input into the debate was so summarily rejected.

“That’s me in my place, as always,” he whispered to Jamie who similarly appeared to have very little to contribute to the discussion.

“Aye, but they’ll be wanting us to fight when we come up against the green tentacle beasties.”

“Ours not to wonder why,” Benton added. He listened and waited for somebody to make the obvious suggestion.

“The TARDIS doesn’t need its earpiece fixing,” Zoë said within the time span the Lieutenant had expected. “Why don’t we just put everybody aboard and take her in? There’s the element of surprise, too. The aliens… if there ARE aliens there… won’t be expecting THAT.”

“Capital idea, my dear Miss Herriot,” The Brigadier answered her with a beaming if a little patronising smile. “What about that, Doctor?”

The Doctor was less enthusiastic.

“The TARDIS isn’t completely immune to perception filters. This one over Battersea must be VERY strong. And besides, she’s not a troop carrier. A TARDIS is an exploration vessel, not for war.”

“What he means,” Jamie whispered conspiratorially to Benton. “Is that he doesnae know if he can get us there. We might all end up in the middle o’ Culloden… or Mars, instead of a wee quarter of a mile across the river.”

“In my experience, that would be right,” Benton replied. “I remember one time we all ended up in another dimension altogether… the universe of anti-matter he called it. And you ought to ask our medic, Harry Sullivan, about The Doctor’s idea of a quick trip.”

Benton remembered he wasn’t supposed to talk about things that hadn’t happened, yet and went quiet again.

“There is something else the TARDIS could do,” The Doctor suggested. “It would save messing about with these fiddly things. Muster your troops down on the bridge and wait.”

“Wait for what?” The Brigadier asked.

“You’ll know.” The Doctor put his sonic screwdriver in his pocket and handed back the last of the ‘fiddly things’ to its owner, a smartly uniformed captain. He leapt up from his seat with the characteristic agility that surprised anyone who didn’t know him and headed out of the Members Bar. Zoë and Jamie hurried after him, followed by Benton and The Brigadier who, knowing The Doctor of old, were fascinated to know what was going to happen next.

What happened immediately was that Zoë and Jamie were locked out of the TARDIS. They knocked and shouted, but The Doctor didn’t answer.

“Well, there’s gratitude!” Jamie exclaimed as he turned away from the blue box parked opposite the club on the Thames side of Grosvenor Road. The Brigadier shared his sentiment. Benton just shrugged.

“I expect he knows what he’s doing,” Zoë suggested. “He certainly seemed to have a plan.”

“He told us to muster the troops,” Benton reminded them all. “I’d better get on with that. It’s going to be tricky, though, when the men can’t even see what they’re mustering against.”

“Just get them in the lorries and lined up on the bridge,” The Brigadier told him. “They can see THAT, at least.”

“Yes, sir.” Benton went to do his duty. The Brigadier could probably have found something practical to do, but waiting to find out what The Doctor was up to was something he had become accustomed to since his first meeting more than a decade before.

“I’ve known two different versions of him since the Cybermen, you know,” he said to The Doctor’s two companions. “One of them had white hair and loved dashing about the place in an old car. The other had dark curly hair and would never do ANYTHING I asked. Absolute nightmare to work with. Still… splendid fellows, all three of them.”

Zoë smiled politely. Jamie was totally bewildered but didn’t dispute the word of a superior officer, especially not a fellow Scotsman.

“I forgot,” The Brigadier added. “There was another one, even older… crotchety is the word for him. The others didn’t like him all that much.”

Now even Zoë was starting to wonder if The Brigadier was making sense. But what was it The Doctor had said about future versions of himself? The Doctor, Benton and The Brigadier seemed to take something for granted, but she wasn’t sure she fully understood.

There was a murmur of amazed chatter from the men who were supposed to be getting into the convoy of Bedfords lined up on Chelsea Bridge. They broke ranks and ran to the balustrade, pointing at something they had just seen on the far side of the river – something they couldn’t see before.

“Battersea Power Station!” Zoë exclaimed as the men were sent back to the lorries. “Oh, I think I know what The Doctor’s done. Instead of fixing all the ear pieces he’s made the TARDIS into one big earpiece – cancelling out the perception filter so that the soldiers know it is there. Now we can find out what’s going on there.”

The Land Rover led the convoy across the bridge and into the huge complex of Battersea Power Station where the men quickly disembarked from the lorries and spread out in the defensive positions ordered by The Doctor.

“If it was up to me, I’d have charged the door,” The Brigadier pointed out.

“Into the Valley of Death, Brigadier,” The Doctor replied. “That is how good men have died needlessly in the past.”

He was fixing a large white handkerchief to The Brigadier’s swagger stick. The Brigadier was still dubious, especially as he was the one who was going to have to carry the flag of truce. It wasn’t really something he was accustomed to.

“What if the aliens don’t understand the white flag?” Jamie asked.

“Then they are very uncouth aliens,” The Doctor replied. “The flag of truce is universally accepted as a signal of peaceful parley between combatants.”

“Yes,” Zoë agreed. “But….”

They weren’t quite unarmed. The swagger stick contained a slender sword, and The Brigadier had his side arm in a holster clipped to his Sam Browne. Jamie had his dirk in the top of his stocking, as always. Even so, it should have been accepted that these weapons were not drawn. They were coming in peace.

“Universally accepted or not, it will be too late to argue the point when they shoot at us,” The Brigadier said. Zoë nodded. She was thinking much the same thing. But The Doctor insisted that they peacefully found out what was going on before any precipitous action was taken. He was still adamant that nobody had yet come to any real harm and therefore they could not draw first blood.

“If this turns out like the Silurian incident,” The Brigadier began before remembering that this version of The Doctor knew nothing about that particular incident. “Never mind. Just… give me warning if this pacifism goes awry.”

They entered the huge hall between the two turbine rooms through the main entrance. There was no attempt to ‘sneak in’. This, too, was The Doctor’s plan.

But even he wasn’t ready for what they saw inside.

The hall formed by roofing over the space between Station A and Station B was the sort of place measured in ‘football pitches’ rather than metres or even old-fashioned yards.

And the whole of that floor space was crowded with people.

Most of them were ordinary people – cab drivers, chip shop owners, pedestrians, coach and train station passengers, office workers, traffic wardens…..

But there were also several members of the Royal Family and the whole staff of Buckingham Palace: aides, footmen, ladies in waiting, servants of all ranks, Guards in their red uniforms and busbies who should have been on duty at the gates. A group of tourists who might have been photographing them were also present.

Everybody was standing very close together and standing very still. The Doctor reached out to touch several of them.

“They’re alive,” he confirmed. “But held in a kind of trance. None of them know that they’re here. They’re not suffering in any way.”

“Yes… but… that’s the Royal Family,” The Brigadier protested.

“And over there are a group of little school-children with their teacher,” Zoë countered. “What’s more important?”

The Brigadier began to answer the question. He served Queen and Country, after all, and here was the Queen and her entire Court, looking like mannequins from Madame Tussauds, except that the wax exhibits were afforded more space.

On the other hand he had a duty to protect ordinary civilians, especially innocent children.

“This can’t be everyone,” Zoë added, moving on from the question of equality among prisoners. “There are about two thousand people here, give or take a hundred. “But even in this era, when the population of Earth is only a quarter what it is in my time, there must be tens of thousands of people living and working in the affected area of London.”

Jamie looked around and shook his head. This looked like plenty to people in one place to him. The last time he was among such a crowd it was on that bloody battlefield at Culloden, but then there was the sky above and the moor stretching for miles around them. Here, enclosed by a roof and walls, he was feeling more than a little claustrophobic.

“Zoë is right,” The Doctor confirmed. “This isn’t enough people. Where are the rest of them?”

The question was answered a moment later. They saw the people around them disappear into thin air and a moment later they were replaced by a new crowd of similarly oblivious people.

“Good Grief!” The Brigadier exclaimed. “This is the Minister of Defence. These men and women are the Cabinet. That’s the Prime Minister....”

As he was getting over the shock there was a message over his radio. It was from one of the unit patrols in The Mall, reporting that the guards and the tourists were all back outside Buckingham Palace.

“But nobody is moving, sir,” the soldier added. “I mean, obviously the Guards don’t move. But the tourists are sort of… frozen.”

“Keep a close eye on things, corporal,” The Brigadier answered. “Keep me informed.”

“That lot are finished with,” Zoë commented. “Whatever they were needed for.”

“Cloning?” The Brigadier queried. “They’re making copies of everyone in London?”

“I don’t know,” Zoë commented, though The Brigadier was really addressing The Doctor. “I think it’s more like some kind of census. Look at this man. He has a mark on him… like he was being catalogued or counted.”

The mark was on the back of his hand. It was faint, only visible at all because the man had a deep suntan. The Doctor looked curiously and then used his sonic screwdriver on the mark. It showed up much brighter.

“Ultra-violet,” he murmured, moving to another of the frozen people and confirming that the same mark was on his hand. He tried another.

“A different mark,” Jamie noted. “What does it mean, Doctor?”

“They’re being categorised according to species,” The Doctor answered. “This man is part Agolian.”

“Agolian?” The Brigadier queried.

“They’re a humanoid species, quite harmless. He’s probably second or third generation since his family migrated to Earth.”

“There are aliens living here on Earth?”

The Doctor gave The Brigadier a withering look.

“Well, yes, I know YOU are an alien,” he answered. “But you’re not… well… you know.”

“No, I don’t know,” The Doctor replied. “What I do know is that there are many alien humanoids living quietly on Earth and bothering nobody. U.N.I.T. exist to deal with the dangerous ones. This chap, here, is just a citizen who has been caught up in this strange business.”

The Brigadier was on the point of arguing when Jamie exclaimed loudly. He had been going through the silent crowds looking at the faint marks on their hands, when one of them moved, quickly, grabbing him by the shoulder. He, himself, moved just as quickly and extricated himself from the grasp before giving chase to the character.

“What the blazes!” The Brigadier demanded as four more apparently frozen people came to life and ran for the exit, knocking several members of the Cabinet and a privy councillor over in their hurry. Three more bolted from the far end of the hall, bowling over more of the victims. Zoë lifted a woman in a cleaning apron to her feet as the men gave chase. She was still trying to return a little dignity to figures knocked down like bowling pins when Lieutenant Benton led a party of men inside, escorting the escapees.

“We caught this lot absconding,” Benton explained. “They tried to put up a fight, but a couple of rounds over their heads quietened them down. What are we going to do with them, sir?”

The Brigadier had no idea what to do with them, but he didn’t want to let the Lieutenant know that. He was relieved when The Doctor stepped forward and looked closely at the individual who had attacked Jamie. He studied the mark on his hand and then stared closely into his eyes.

“YOU are NOT a harmless Gollian as your designation indicates,” he concluded. “You are a Mallonax hiding under a secondary layer of disguise.”

“What’s a Mallonax?” The Brigadier asked.

“An outlawed breed from the planet Mallonia,” The Doctor explained. “Mr Benton, I am not fond of guns, but please have your men keep their weapons upon this group of miscreants. They should not be allowed to get away.”

“Outlaws?” Jamie queried. For a moment he was uncertain. His own people were called outlaws and worse by the English government when they fought for the freedom of Scotland. The uniforms were different, now, but he was surrounded by Sasanachs who were laying down the law. Where ought his loyalties lie?

“No, Jamie,” The Doctor told him gently. “These are not freedom fighters with a just cause. They are murderers of innocent people in an attempt to impose bad government and oppression in place of good, just rule. They have been condemned by intergalactic treaty as war criminals, and unless I’m very much mistaken, this is what all of this has been about.”

“Ah!” Zoë exclaimed. “I think I see….”

“I don’t,” The Brigadier contradicted. Moments later, he saw even less. All of the frozen people vanished around him, leaving only his men, The Doctor and his companions and the Mallonax prisoners.

“The criminals have been identified!” A voice boomed around the hall. “Stand away from the criminals, humans. They are to be executed at once.”

“Executed?” Zoë was horrified. “No, that can’t be allowed.” Instead of moving away she moved closer to the men presently in the custody of U.N.I.T. “No, I won’t stand for that.”

“Zoë, no!” The Doctor cried out, but it was too late. The Human skin cracked as if it was merely an artificial shell and a green claw grasped her around the neck, its pincers capable of decapitating her in an instant. Benton and his men kept their guns trained on the group of criminal aliens, but they took a cautious step back.

“Let usss go or this feeble creature diesss,” hissed the Mallonax as the last of its disguise fell away to reveal a bulbous head with three huge eyes almost entirely covering the face and a green-grey chitin-covered body like an insect. The lower limbs rubbed together creating a noise like a cricket and the upper ones were scissor-like weapons.

The other creatures abandoned their disguise and the cricket noise echoed around the hall threateningly. Benton and his men moved just slightly, the safety catches on their guns making a counterpoint sound that was equally threatening, but the fact was that they couldn’t act while Zoë was their prisoner.

But the stand-off was not merely between Human and Mallonax. Even The Doctor was startled when the creatures began to smoulder and burn in their own skins. Zoë screamed as she felt the heat on her neck from within the claw-limb.

“Push it aside and run,” The Doctor told her. “Run, Zoë, or you’ll burn with them.”

She pushed. She screamed as her hands scorched with the heat coming from inside the insect body, but it gave way. She ducked and ran as the creature burst into flames.

Two of Benton’s men broke ranks and ran to fetch fire extinguishers. They covered the dying creatures with foam but there was no question of saving lives. It was merely to stop the fire spreading. As the foam evaporated all that was left of the Mallonax was ashes.

“Horrible,” Zoë sobbed as Jamie offered a comforting arm around her shoulders. “They killed them, just like that.”

“Not just like that, Zoë,” The Doctor replied in a soft, kind but firm voice. “They WERE tried many years ago. The sentence was passed. They escaped justice for a very long time. They only got what they deserved for terrible crimes that would horrify you even more than their own fate.”

“I didn’t see their crimes, only their punishment,” Zoë replied. But The Doctor was talking sense.

He wasn’t finished, though. He turned around, looking at the now empty and echoing hall and then spoke loudly.

“Your justice has been done. Now return all of the innocent humans you have trapped in your transmat system and prepare to take your ship out of orbit. And next time you come to this planet looking for criminals, talk to the Human authorities first. Don’t play with their lives in this way. Do you understand me?”

There was a long silence and then the echoing voice spoke again.

“It will be done.”

“Immediately,” The Doctor insisted.

It was done, immediately. The Brigadier and the men under his command ran outside in time to see a huge space ship become visible just above Battersea Power Station. There was an ear-splitting sound and then it vanished again, leaving behind only the tinkling sound of shards of glass falling from windows shattered by the ultrasonic boom.

“Sir!” Benton called out to The Brigadier, but he already knew what he was going to say. All of the people were back where they belonged and they had returned to full consciousness with their memories modified to explain the time they had been away. That included the workers at Battersea Power Station who had been under the influence of the Mallonian Justices for longer than anyone else. Their only question was about the military presence and the broken glass.

The Brigadier brushed aside their questions with the usual cover-all story of ‘national security’ and ordered his men back to their mobile command. Of course, the staff of the Royal British Legion club were back, and there was some argument at first about the presence of non-members but eventually The Brigadier, Benton and The Doctor’s party were served drinks in the comfortable upper floor bar. The Doctor still insisted on tea. Jamie would have liked a glass of malt whiskey, but he and Zoë were given soft drinks instead.

“The Mallonians are technologically brilliant, but not the most subtle of people,” The Doctor explained to the U.N.I.T. commander and his longest serving officer. “They knew the fugitives were in central London but their only way of finding them was to pull EVERYONE from the area and categorise them by species. Unfortunately the Mallonax were using a double level of disguise and they kept missing them. If we hadn’t discovered them, goodness knows how long the Mallonians would have kept searching.”

“And how long the centre of London would be ‘missing’,” The Brigadier added. “Two of those aliens worked at Westminster. That’s a disturbing thought.”

“If you think that’s disturbing you should have noted the marks on the hands of your Cabinet Ministers,” The Doctor replied. “Six of them have alien blood.”

“Which six?” The Brigadier asked, but The Doctor just smiled and shook his head. That was for him to know.